Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Endearing characters

zoey awake Rich characters are an author’s goal. If we can create characters that stick with readers after they have closed our book, we’ve done our job.

But we don’t always consider adding an extra little treat to our stories, especially if we write in the suspense or thriller genres.

Pets are something we can add to our stories to enrich them, and round out the human characters. I mean, many readers can relate to a character who has a dog that needs to be walked or a cat that insists on being let outdoors at the most inconvenient times.

In cozy mysteries especially, pets seem to be everything from sidekicks to co-protagonists. In the Fudge Shop Mysteries by Christine DeSmet, Lucky Harbor, a fudge-loving mutt, is both a sleuth and a troublemaker. In the Stephanie Plum mysteries by Janet Evanovich, Rex the hamster is Stephanie’s only roommate. More entertaining is Bob the golden retriever, a galoot who eats anything (including socks and underwear) and later “horks” it up.

Pets aren’t just for cozy mysteries, either. In J. D. Robb’s In Death futuristic police procedural series, Eve Dallas owes her life to the plump cat she names Galahad. Even in a few of the later Special Crimes Unit/Bishop Files books by Kay Hooper, she added dogs and a cat named Pendragon that all seem more than average.

Some of my favorite fictional pets appear in urban fantasy. One of my favorite urban fantasy series is the Dresden series by Jim Butcher. Harry Dresden lives alone in a basement apartment with Mister, a huge domestic cat, as his only freeloader–er, pet. Later, he acquires a foo dog, which is a mythic temple guardian in Tibet (think of those dog/lion statues you always see outside temples) that looks like a Tibetan mastiff. Mouse is one of my favorite fictional pets. He’s huge, but sweet. In Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series, Oberon is an Irish wolfhound who adds some comic relief.

If I could choose any fictional pet for my own, though, it’d be a close tie between Mouse and the firelizards from Anne McCaffery’s Pern series. I mean, who wouldn’t want tiny dragons to hang out with?

Adding a pet, or a stray that winds up as a pet, is a great way to give your readers another reason to feel connected to your characters. In my debut novel, I have a pet ferret as a little extra source of endearment. As I’ve been working on Book 2, I didn’t start out with a pet, but the more I write, the more I think a pet is needed. One of the characters went through cancer treatment, including surgery. Her husband would be worried, and lonely while his wife is in the hospital. Then there’s the time he can’t be at home with her while she’s recuperating. What better than a dog–or a cat–to keep them company?

Not every story needs a pet, but sometimes it makes sense. Remember, we want our readers to think of our characters as real people. Real people have pets. Besides, you never know when that pet will be the key to resolving a conflict or reaching a goal.

Amazingly, I have a free weekend–woo-hoo! I see two days of heavy writing in my future 😀

Write Well! Write On!

zoey asleep

 

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Mashup Marketing, Amazon, and a Muse–Guest Post by Staci Troilo #amreading #amwriting

Please welcome my guest today, Staci Troilo. Staci has just released the last book of her Medici Protectorate series (and I am so bummed, but there is the Nightforce Security guys, which is a spinoff written by Staci’s alter ego (well, one of them 😀 ) Kiera Beck). If you haven’t checked out the Medici series, you’re missing out.

And now, heeeere’s Staci!

Hi, Julie. Thanks for inviting me here today. I’ve been crazy busy writing guest posts for my latest release, Tortured Soul, the fourth and final installment of the Medici Protectorate series. As I was about to compose my piece for you, my muse interrupted me. I’m sure my original idea for a post would have been a good one, but I think you’ll like our conversation better. At the very least, you’ll get a kick out of this, since I have you to thank for introducing us.

muse

I’ve transcribed our chat for you:

“Ahem.”

I’d watched him come in the door. He’d risen at dawn and had been doing some form of martial arts in the yard for over an hour. Now he stood in the doorway, his broad, bare chest glistening with sweat. Dark hair, damp on the ends, curled at the nape of his neck. He sipped from my “This Might Be Wine” bottle, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he guzzled the water.

Had to be water. No one built like that drank wine after a workout. Certainly not Mr. Perfect. I had to admit, I might. Okay, I confess—my morning drinks of choice are coffee, mimosas, and Bloody Marys, in that order. Which isn’t really a problem, since I seldom workout in the morning. Nor am I built like a Roman deity. (I’m starting to see some uncomfortable correlations.)

Cara, you’re staring. Again.”

“Sorry.” My cheeks heated as I dragged my gaze up to his and forced myself to blink. And swallow. “Did you want something?”

“You’re supposed to be working.”

“A ha!” Is it bad that I feel perverse glee when he’s wrong about something? “I can’t write right now. I’m working on marketing materials and guest posts.”

“I didn’t say you’re supposed to be writing. I said you’re supposed to be working.”

And just like that, my glee evaporated. “I was. Until you interrupted.”

“If you were working, why were you staring out the window?”

Because my eyes were tired, my brain was mush, and I’d been admiring the view. At least until he came inside. “I was just thinking.”

“You’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately.”

“You’ve been doing a lot of exercising lately.”

His lips quirked.

My face flamed hotter, and I looked away—back to my blank computer screen.

He pulled on a t-shirt then dropped onto the sofa beside me. Close. Really close.

I inhaled deeply. To my surprise, he smelled good. Like pine and sandalwood and something sultry and exotic I couldn’t name. Seriously? After an hour flailing about in the summer heat? I vented the breath with an audible sigh.

He touched my arm. “You always sound so tortured, cara.”

Wonder why. Shifting in my seat, I knocked his hand away. My skin tingled where it had been.

“So, tell me. When you’re not fantasizing—”

“I don’t fantasize. I ponder. Plan. Prepare.”

“And now you protest too much.”

Hamlet? Queen Gertrude? What, were you Shakespeare’s muse, too?”

His jaw ticked and his gaze heated, but he didn’t speak. Still, I thought I heard an answer in his silence.

Given the circumstances—given his qualifications—I should probably give the guy a little more respect than I had been.

“Anyway.” I cleared my throat. “Julie has talked to me about marketing and publishing. In some ways, it’s tough for writers who write mashups or multiple genres.”

“How so?”

He wasn’t challenging me. Rather, he seemed genuinely interested. Apparently the business side of writing was outside his area of expertise. Never would have guessed there was something he wasn’t good at.

I reached for my mimo—er, my coffee—and nestled into the corner of the couch. “Well, if you’re going to be a multi-genre author, you’ve got some decisions to make. Are you going to try to maintain only one identity and segment your mailing list? Or are you going to write under multiple pen names, having one identity per genre? There are pros and cons to each.”

“And you chose to use multiple pen names?”

“Only recently. But that’s because of a policy at work.” He knows all about my job at a publishing company and the requirements that came along with it. He doesn’t know what the company is doing for me, though. “The marketing director there is helping me manage these different personas, and we’ve developed names and identities for each imprint that works for the genres I write in. Before that, I wrote only as ‘me’ and tried to target different segments of readers when I released different types of novels. And I was mostly on my own with marketing.”

“Either way sounds exhausting.”

“You have no idea.”

He took another drink. “Is there a way to make things easier?”

“Marketing takes time no matter what kind of author you are. Single- or multi-genre. One identity or many. Unless you have someone doing it for you, it’s not easy. But one of the easiest ways to target the right readers is to categorize your book correctly.”

Cara, correct me if I’m wrong, but you aren’t self-published. You don’t have control over your books’ categories.”

“That’s true of most of my books. But not all. I have a few self-published titles. I learned through trial and error on those. Lately, I’ve been asking questions and watching what my publishers chose for me. Watching what the top authors in my genres are doing.”

He leaned back against the cushions, and I got another whiff of him. It was more than a little distracting, so I sat up straight then bent over my laptop.

“What are you doing?”

“Pulling up Amazon’s site. I wanted to show you a few things. For starters, look at this. All these authors have multiple categories listed.”

“That makes sense.”

“Yeah, but you’re only able to add two categories and seven keywords when you upload on KDP.”

“So how did they get other categories?”

three categories

“You have to request it. Email the helpdesk in KDP with the exact path you want, and they’ll adjust it for you. You have to have the exact words, though. And don’t just rely on their options. If you look at your competitors, you can see paths you want that Amazon doesn’t offer. Copy them and ask KDP for them. That’s how you get the categories Amazon doesn’t organically offer. You have to be exact and specific.”

“But how do you know which categories to select?”

“Look at this.” I pulled up the categories for Hideaway by Keira Beck—one of my pen names. “See how ‘New Adult’ is one of them?”

Hideaway Amazon Ranking

“I’m not blind, cara.”

Yeah, neither was I. That was part of the problem. I turned back to the screen. “That’s definitely not a book about college-aged people, which is what NA was originally defined as. So I asked my publisher about it. They said the category has morphed to mean ‘includes unmarried sexual partners’ and has nothing to do with an age group. Other than the characters aren’t teenagers. If you want to place your book in the proper categories, you need to ask questions of people who might know more than you.”

“I see.”

“Another thing is to make sure you go as deep down into the categories as possible. The more specialized and specific you can get, the better chance you have at finding your targeted readers.”

“Makes sense.”

“And of course, you need to look at what comparable authors are listing their works as. Keeping an eye on them and what they’re doing helps you stay on top of your game.”

“You sure do a lot of looking at other things.” He tipped the bottle up and drained it dry. Never took his gaze off me, though.

I drained my own drink then scampered into the kitchen for a refill. It was really warm in the house.

“I think I’m going to shower then head to One Ugly Mug to watch the game.”

My mind kind of blanked at shower.

As he walked past me, he leaned down and whispered in my ear. “Don’t dawdle, cara. You’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Truer words never spoken.

So, as you can see, my newly-acquired muse has made himself at home. And we’re learning from each other—learning some really interesting things.

It’s hard to pick categories for books. I noticed my publisher chose different categories for my eBook than for my paperback and hardcover. Probably trying to maximize exposure. At the end of the day, I stand by the four rules mentioned above.

  1. Ask questions when you don’t understand.
  2. Request multiple keyword streams from Amazon, particularly ones they don’t offer that you can copy from other authors.
  3. The more specific and specialized the categories are, the better chance you have at finding your ideal readers.
  4. Always stay apprised of what comparable authors are doing.

Do those things, and you’ve won half the battle. Properly positioning yourself will entice Amazon to put their vast promotional machine behind you.

The other half requires developing relationships with your readers. Somehow I think my muse knows a lot about that particular subject. But I don’t have time to have that discussion today. I have promotional materials to write.

TS cover

Blurb:

Protection is safety. Until it stifles.

After months of clandestine battles, the Brothers of the Medici Protectorate finally know who is responsible for the assassination attempts on the Notaro family, the secret descendants of the Medici line. And they’ve never faced such a formidable foe.

Roberto Cozza–Coz–faces this new reality with surprising pragmatism. His powers may make the difference in winning their covert war–if only he can master them in time. It would just be so much easier if he could get his emotions under control, but neither his Brothers nor their charges are making things easy on him.

Toni Notaro appreciates the security provided by the Brothers, but she knows she has her own role to play–and it terrifies her. She is the missing link in Coz mastering his emerging abilities, yet she struggles to bridge the gap between what he needs and what she can offer.

As the Brotherhood hurtles inexorably toward the climactic final showdown, Coz and Toni must find the strength within themselves and each other to master the secrets of his powers, or risk death and defeat for all they hold dear.

Universal Purchase Link

Author Bio and Links:

Troilo Color Photo RT smaller

Staci Troilo writes because she has hundreds of stories in her head. She publishes because people told her she should share them. She’s a multi-genre author whose love for writing is only surpassed by her love for family and friends, and that relationship-centric focus is featured in her work.

Web | Blog | Tortured Soul Info | Medici Protectorate Info | Amazon Author Page | BookBub Author Page | Goodreads Author Page | Twitter | Other Social Media Links


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The End of Summer Already?!

Say it ain’t so. Please.

Where did the summer go? I check my paltry word count. Did I say I was going to do a self-imposed NaNoWriMo in July? Ha! That busted in epic style. Then I think I vowed to do the same in August.

Yeah, right.

Sigh. I was just discussing this past summer with my husband. It’s been an unusually busy one this year for us, from two weddings within a month of each other–one in Dallas, TX–to graduation to the prep for my dad’s auction (and the auction) to moving our youngest to college. And we didn’t even host Easter this year, so we didn’t have that activity to contend with.

I look up from my laptop. My writing office is empty. The wall-sized white board is covered with a list of writing projects, a timeline for Book 2, and …

I cross the office to get a better look. It’s a calendar. Actually, it’s the next six months, starting today. March 2019 is circled.

I didn’t write it.

“Two thousand words a day, love. That’s what you said.”

I can feel him behind me, a well-built, hot-looking guy invading my personal space. My Muse. He’s close enough that I can smell coconut and that indescribable scent of a vast body of water.

A glance back over my shoulder, and he moves in to stand against my back. At six-foot two, he towers over me, but seldom uses that to his advantage.

Today he’s using it.

“Um, you’re a little close there, buddy.” Not that I’m complaining. Nope. Not me. I’m a little young for hot flashes, but I’m pretty sure that rise in body temperature is due to a hot flash. Yep, has to be a hot flash.

He drops his hands onto my shoulders and squeezes. “I’ve been giving you a bit of space, because you promised to write a thousand words a day.” He lowers his head until I feel his breath against my ear. “Just how many words did you write yesterday, love? And the day before? Hmm?”

Gulp. “I’ve got over thirteen thousand in on my, er, third first draft.”

“You should have thirty-six thousand by now according to your NaNo spreadsheet. I didn’t think I would have to baby-sit you after you started writing every day, a thousand words a day. I see I was wrong.”

My breath shudders. “You do realize I’ve been busier than usual this summer, right? It’s not like I’m goofing off. Besides, the kids are both at school, now. Well, except my daughter is home for the weekend since it’s a long weekend.”

“And how many words have you managed?”

“Hey, I’ve cleared a thousand words on a few days. I’ve been close to a thousand the other days.”

“The other days that you actually write.” He releases me and backs off, freeing me from his overbearing height.

I ignore the teeny bit of disappointment that follows the fading heat. “I thought I was doing okay.” I turn to find him pacing across my office. He reaches the opposite wall and heads back. His loose-cut tank top and cut-offs seem to highlight the copper tan of his skin, which in turn enhances the lean muscles of his shoulders and arms. Pale streaks highlight his blond hair that needs a cut. Except if he’s going for the beach bum look. Then it’s perfect.

It’s another hot flash. Yep, pretty sure. I resist fanning myself, and I’m glad when he stops before he reaches me. Until he hits me with those intense blue eyes of his.

Gulp. I sure hope he didn’t catch those thoughts…

“The fedora and bullwhip aren’t working anymore, love. I’m going to have to step it up.”

Er, I’m not sure I want to ask.

*Thud* A low rumble shudders through the office.

“I called for reinforcements.”

Now I know I don’t want to ask.

We have a 3-day weekend here in the US with Labor Day on Monday, so I’m planning to spend some serious writing time. Of course, Monday will probably be a bust since I’ll have to take my daughter back to school. Still trying to settle into an empty-nester routine. At some point, I’m going to take over my son’s room for an office (but, that’s time spent not writing, so dilemma).

Enjoy the last “official” weekend of summer!

 

 

 


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A case of (almost) mistaken identity

zoey_cr

See how I did that? Made you look! 🙂

One of the decisions an author makes during the process of getting published, either traditionally or self-published, is what pen name to use. Most writers will use their “real” name, which makes sense. Some authors choose to use an alias, or pseudonym, as their pen name.

Writers with well-known pen names include Stephen King (Richard Bachman), and his son, Joe Hill (instead of Joe King. Heh, I never noticed that. Joe King. Get it? 😀 ). Others off the top of my head are J. D. Robb and Nora Roberts (which isn’t her real name either), Jayne Ann Krentz and Amanda Quick, and the (in)famous Robert Galbraith version of J. K. Rowling.

So, why do authors choose to use pseudonyms? Sometimes when an author is established in a particular genre, and they decide to write in a different genre, they will use a different pen name, like Nora Roberts and J. D. Robb. Nora is known for romance and romantic suspense. J. D. Robb writes futuristic police procedurals (which are great reading, by the way 😉 ). According to my editor, in her experience an author’s readers will read the author’s work no matter the genre. Well, except, I suspect, if the author strays waaay away from their usual genre, like a middle-grade author writing romance, or a horror writer getting into picture books.

Sometimes authors use pseudonyms because it may make their book marketable to a wider audience, though I suspect that isn’t like it used to be. I’m referring to the discrimination experienced by female authors in certain genres, notably mystery. I suspect the same thing would apply to male authors writing in genres such as romance. Gender expectations, I think they call it.

What if you have the same name as another author? I personally know a writer who uses a pseudonym because there is already an established author (in a different genre) with the same name.

Then there are the collaborative authors who write under a single pen name, like P. J. Tracy, a mother-daughter team (daughter only now, since Patricia passed away in 2016).

And a small percentage of authors may be concerned about privacy, but that might be more relevant if writing something highly controversial, or in the erotica genre. Look at the Fifty Shades books: E. L. James. I can see her not wanting to be immediately recognized at the annual church picnic.

The obvious question for a new, soon-to-be-published author is whether to use his/her real name. If the author’s name is something almost impossible to pronounce or spell correctly, or it just sounds weird (like Joe King 🙂 ), it might make sense to change it to something more reader-friendly.

It’s easy to search author names to see if your name already exists out there. Sure, your name might be Sue Grafton, but you probably don’t want to use that as your pen name, especially if you write cozy mysteries or women’s fiction. You might decide to use Susan Q. Grafton, or maybe your grandmother’s name (I know a writer who did that as well) of Lucille Cornish.

zoey2_cr

Seriously, get on with it…

Now to my story (sorry it took so long to get here 🙂 ). Because of the whole female writer in the mystery genre thing (gender expectations), I chose to use my initials. (Okay, there was some influence from my other half, who has an eye on privacy. I thought about using my maiden name, but that can be hard to pronounce correctly).

I searched Amazon, and no other authors used J. M. Holmes. Oh, added bonus: a mystery writer named Holmes. Never thought about it until a fellow writer mentioned it. Anyway, I established that with my publisher, set up a FB author page, Twitter account, yada yada. Just waiting on the cover art to really go gangbusters. My debut novel, Murder in Plane Sight, is being released in March 2019, and I don’t have cover art yet so I haven’t set up an Amazon author page or Goodreads author page.

Last week I got a notification that my FB author page has a mention. What?! So I go check out the post linking to my author page. It was a review/recommendation page for five summer reads, and a book by JM Holmes was on the list.

Except it wasn’t me. That JM Holmes is a male author in a more literary genre (story of African-American young men growing up in Philidelphia). His book is also a debut novel, to be released this month.

No wonder I didn’t find him in my author search last fall.

I can’t release a book under J. M. Holmes now. I asked the poster to remove the mention of my author page since I’m not the author she was looking for (she obviously didn’t look at my page, just probably searched for it).

I contacted my editor after getting reassurance from my agent that yes, I should change my pen name. I searched for my name, and no other authors popped up. Whew! My editor also assured me that the whole women mystery author thing is pretty much history thanks to authors like Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton.

So, I will publish under Julie Holmes (much to my husband’s chagrin despite my promise not to embarrass his (my) name with shoddy writing and to keep as much anonymity as I can). So, change the FB author page, the Twitter handle, and at least I haven’t set up an Amazon or Goodreads page yet.

The benefits of a pseudonym are legit, but were more relevant years ago, I think. According to my editor, a lot of authors she knows wish they would not have used pseudonyms. I remember an article some time ago about how pseudonyms may be more trouble than they’re worth in a lot of ways. Using your real name simplifies a lot of things.

Sorry for the long post today (but I did include cat pics 😀 ). Have a great writing weekend!

zoey nap

Finally! I need a nap.


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It’s a jungle out there

I know you all like to see pictures of my garden, and it’s about that time. Thing is, ever since I got back from my reunion retreat, I’ve been less than enthusiastic about weeding. As in, not-weeding-unless-I-can’t-find-the-vegetables enthusiastic.

Part of it is the weather–it’s been hot and humid here. Part of it is the time of year, I think. All the weeds are seeding now. When I got back from Wisconsin, I checked out the garden.

Ugh.

On the bright side, most of the weeds are purslane, which is more ground-hugging, so it isn’t shading any of the veggies. In fact, it might even be acting like a sort of mulch.

purslane

A carpet of purslane

So, really, it isn’t all that bad if you look at it that way. It just looks messy.

Another deterrent to getting out into the garden? The ragweed is blooming now. And if you remember, we have giant ragweed. Yes, that’s really what it’s called, and with good reason–the plant can be up to 15′ high (I think that’s around 5 meters for those on the metric system).

And though common ragweed is generally no more than a foot high, it has nothing on the large “flowers” the giant stuff has.

You see all that yellow stuff? That’s ALL pollen. And that’s the stuff that people are allergic to. Including me. We try to cut down as much ragweed as we can before it flowers, but of course we never get it all. And in some areas, we just can’t get to it.

Lucky for me, ever since I had surgery to correct my deviated septum, allergy season hasn’t been as bad as it used to be. I can still breathe. And yes, I know I’m allergic to it, because the one time I got tested, they wanted to stop the test because my back broke out from the moment they applied the ragweed allergen. (If you’ve never been tested for allergies, back almost 20 yrs ago when I was tested, they applied allergens to your back using tiny needles to barely prick the skin. I have no idea what they do now.)

BTW, many people blame these allergies on goldenrod, which blooms at the exact same time, and happens to have tiny yellow flowers the same color as ragweed pollen. Goldenrod also tends to grow next to ragweed, so it gets a bad rap.

Anyway, they aren’t pretty, but here are pics I took last night. The cilantro/coriander is blooming now, the dill is blooming, and the cucumbers are spreading everywhere!

garden1

Row of green beans and cilantro, with a carpet of purslane back by the tomatoes.

garden2

Zucchini and cucumbers. Notice the “wall” of giant ragweed way in the background over by the chicken pen.

I’ve been picking zucchini, green beans, and of course, cucumbers. I just picked the first tomato. Okay, I should have waited another day or two, but hey, it’s the first ripe tomato!

The kale has been heartily attacked by cabbage worms, and though I’ve been meaning to spray, I haven’t done so. I try to avoid using chemicals, and though I have an organic pesticide to use, I haven’t mixed it up yet.

The peppers are doing well. This year I planted pepperoncini peppers, which are the ones they use for pickled peppers, like what you get in the salad at Olive Garden. We’ve been eating pickled peppers lately, so my husband suggested I plant some so we can pickle our own.

And there you have it. My writing–now that I’m finally getting going with Book 2–is another reason I’m reluctant to spend a lot of time in the garden. And it’s hot. And frankly, I’m tired. I might not plant a garden next year, but then again, tomatoes. And peppers. And we don’t have a good farmer’s market around. Or maybe we’ll get a membership in the CSA for the school garden. We’ll see.

Have a wonderful and writing-filled weekend!


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How many tries for that (kinda) perfect opening?

It was a dark and stormy night.
It was a really dark and mega-stormy night.
It was night, and dark. And stormy.

Meh.

The night was darker than an inkwell and more stormy than the Classics IV.

Ugh. Ick. (sorry not sorry for the link 😀 –I couldn’t help myself 😉 )

Wind whipped across the field, caressing the wheat into undulating waves …
Wait. Not dark enough.

Wind tore across the field, whipping at the grasses, pale waves snaking across the expanse. Lightning lit the night, flashing against angry clouds, exposing the undulating darkness boiling in the sky.

Hmm. Better.

How many times do you rewrite that first line? That first page? The opening scene? If you’re like me with my Book 2 project, the count is reaching double-digits. I think I’ve hit 6 or 7 do-overs. At least.

I won’t go into the multiple reasons and ways to rewrite that first line/page/scene/chapter because there are a lot of resources about the subject, such as Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages. Which, by the way, is a very good book. My main struggle at this point isn’t that first line or page, it’s the opening scene. I’m still trying to get going on the 6th or 7th (8th?) run at my rough draft for Book 2, and I feel like if the opening scene isn’t working, it may be causing the sticky wicket in my brain. Or is it my story that’s in need of some adjustment sending my opening off the rails?

Have you ever started a story, and it just didn’t “feel” right? Then you restart it, and it still doesn’t feel right? And even when you change the opening and think it’s finally going to work, it still feels wonky? So you rewrite it again. And again. And it seems like nothing is falling into place, even though you’ve got a working plot roughed out.

This spring when we got together for the Writers’ Institute, my writing sisters helped me with the plot. It was great, because it “felt” a lot better than my first stab at it (no, the victim is not stabbed in this one 😉 ) I ran with that, and though I liked the revised plot more than my first go, it still seemed a bit off. And I continued to struggle with the opening.

Every year before our reunion retreat, we–my writing sisters–exchange about 20 pages for everyone to review, then at the retreat we discuss each other’s pages and offer feedback. This year I shared my entire 6th (7th?) first draft–all 20 pages of it (Don’t tell my Muse I still haven’t started the next do-over; he’s gonna lock me in my writing office every day and stare at me until I write a thousand words. 😐 And he’ll probably hide my chocolate, too!).

Again with the help of my “sisters”, I’ve got a few tweaks to the plot that should solve some of the issues my subconscious kept niggling me about. I remember thinking a few things in particular didn’t seem right, but I couldn’t figure out why. I need to listen to that niggling, because it means somewhere in the ol’ gray matter my writer’s brain is paying close attention. Sure beats a two-hour detour (no, I’m not going to tell you how I missed a turn and ignored that little voice that kept telling me I should stop and turn around).

About that opening line/scene: don’t sweat it too much until you’ve got the first draft (and maybe second draft) finished. Seriously. And even though “they” (you know, all those more experienced writers and writing teachers) say the first line (or paragraph) should give the reader a sense of WWWWH, fine-tuning it can come after you’ve got the plot holes filled, the timelines in order, and the character arcs smoothed out.

You want to drop the reader into the middle of the action or at least some sort of goings on. No waking up and looking in the mirror or weather report unless it is pertinent and not boring or cliche. Even if you open with action, it doesn’t mean that’s the right action to open with. Case in point: when I workshopped my police procedural in a novel writers’ Master Class, I had an action-packed opening scene, or so I thought. My writing instructor guided me to make it better.

I wrote a new opening scene that keeps the gist of the action, but it now gives the reader a much better sense of the main character and the flavor of the story that follows. And it feels right. Or at least more right than the first one did.

The longer you practice writing, the easier it will be to recognize when the opening just isn’t “there”, and the better you will get at fixing it. Bottom line, if something feels off or wonky with the opening, it’s probably your writer’s brain (or muse) poking at you and telling you to try it again, because what’s there isn’t working. Listen to it.

Happy Writing Weekend!


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Recharging Creative Energies

 

from balcony

View from Julie’s balcony, Crystal River Inn B&B

*leans over balcony railing* “You bloody well owe me for this.”

“Yeah, yeah.” My writer yells from the yard. “I told you last weekend I wanted you to write the post while we’re here.”

“This is not part of my job description.”

My writer waves. “I’m going on the lake tour. You can catch up when you’re done.”

“You heard the part about owing me, love. Trust me, I will collect.”

Julie piles into the van with her fellow writing sisters without another wave.

So here I bloody am writing her blog post. Again. But this time it isn’t to be nice. Mercury is in retrograde, and damn it, my writer has an energy drain that’s been pulling her down since last weekend. She asked me to do this, but I agreed on one condition: she has to work on Book 2 every single day for the next month.

She blew her July NaNo. I’m ready to take bets on if she will manage to get 30k words done in a month. A thousand words a day. I’m ready to pull out all the stops on her.

You writers think we muses have it so good. You think all we have to do is sit on a shelf like some fecking holiday elf and you magically get inspired.

Well, it doesn’t work that way. We have to figure out how to encourage your creative energies to kick around ideas and images in your head. And if that doesn’t work, like it isn’t working for my writer (damn it all to bloody hell and back), we have to gather it ourselves and shove it into you.

It’s like trying to collect sparks from a Roman candle and cramming them into your head like …  Trust me, it ain’t easy. It helps that the reunion is at such a quiet location, with a river running behind it. It gets my writer to open up to the energy, which makes my job a hell of easier.

Besides, I left my bullwhip and fedora at home. Hasn’t been working anyway. Now that Julie has finished the list of stuff she got from her editor (THAT wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be), she can focus on her next project. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to just sit by and wish the creative energy to infuse her.

No, I’m going to fecking channel the energy into her. I didn’t take that Muse refresher course for nothing. And I didn’t learn the rules so I wouldn’t break them. Besides, they’re more like guidelines…

Signing off, because I’ve got a Muse rule or two to break.

Get your arses writing!

crystal river